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The Collection of Josephine Young McKenna

through May 6, 2007


The heirs of Josephine Young McKenna have chosen to share 14 works from her collection with visitors to Cape Cod Museum of Art and by doing so they are opening a window on the art of the Lower Cape from 1843 to the 1950's. 

Mr. & Mrs. Young were prominent citizens in Provincetown in the early part of the 20th century. He was one of the founders of the Seaman's Savings Bank and was chairman of the Pilgrim Monument Committee. Their portraits, representing them as pillars of the community, are by Vollian Burr Rann. Rann came to Provincetown to study with Charles Hawthorne and remained for the rest of his life. He was a prominent member of the art community and exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery Biennial, the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy. In addition to the two portraits, he is represented in this collection by his wonderful impressionist snow scene of Provincetown in winter. (right: William M. Paxton, Arthur Johnson Young)

Provincetown's art colony was founded in 1899 but artists were painting there long before that -- J. J. Audubon worked there in the 1830's and itinerant portraitists painted the local gentry. Two fine examples of early portraits by William M. Prior are included in the collection. He painted J. P. Johnson and his second wife, the former Susan Pierce Fitch, the year that they were married, 1843. 

The Prior portraits were kept in the family and hung in the Young's home when Josephine and her brothers Lewis and Arthur were growing up. Both sons died in the great Spanish flu pandemic and their grieving parents commissioned portraits from photographs. The Youngs chose Richard E. Miller to paint Lewis in civilian clothes and William M. Paxton to paint Arthur in his army uniform. 

Both Miller and Paxton were well known for their portraits of upper class ladies, quiet elegant interiors, and impressionist landscapes. The two portraits here represent the bread and butter work of portrait painters.

Miller and Paxton were two of the most important painters of their day. Both studied in France at the Académie Julian and Miller remained there until the outbreak of war in 1914. He taught painting in Giverny in the summers and had a small atelier in Paris during the winter season. Paxton, on the other hand, returned to the United States in the 1890s and continued his studies with Dennis Miller Bunker. 

When the First World War broke out, Miller returned to the United States and spent his first few years teaching at the Stickney Memorial School of Art in Pasadena California. He is credited with introducing impressionism to California painters. In 1917 he settled in Provincetown and taught and painted there during the warm weather until the end of his life. 

Paxton lived in Boston and traveled to Cape Ann and Cape Cod during the summers. He was a frequent visitor to Provincetown and a member of the Beachcombers Club, as was Miller.

The collection also includes several paintings of the local landscape which combine to give us a true sense of the place that Provincetown was. Ross Moffett, John Whorf, and Gerrit Beneker all came to town to study with Charles Hawthorne. Each stayed on after the summer sessions ended and the results of immersion in the year-round art colony manifests itself in uniquely personal ways. The Moffett is unusually small and high keyed -- the Whorf is oil -- a medium that he abandoned after the 1920 -- the Beneker best captures the essence of impressionist color notation.

There is a wonderful small watercolor by William Zorach, painted in 1918. By the '20's Zorach had discovered that his real love lay with sculpture and he had all but abandoned painting. Today, he is best known for his sculpture -- directly carved in wood and stone. Looking at the simple watercolor in the McKenna collection there is a hint of what would come because of the way the solid forms are rendered.

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